Traditionally, it is between November 4th and 18th when the peak of the rutting or breeding season for the white-tailed deer occurs in the Adirondacks. Bucks are continuously on the move during these two weeks as they attempt to locate any doe that is nearing her initial heat period.
Also, as bucks expand their search for females outside their regular area of travel, males must continue to regularly return to their home range in order to ensure that rivals do not intrude into their domain.
The prime time for breeding in autumn has been set through the process of natural selection working its wonders over the centuries. The white-tail has a gestation period of very close to 200 days. This means that a doe which successfully mates during the first weeks of November will give birth in very late May or early June, a time when the leaves have fully erupted and there is an abundance of tender foliage for a nursing doe to consume. (All births in nature occur at a time of year when the chances for the survival of the young are optimal. This is why a wild dog, like a coyote or fox can only mate for a few weeks in mid to late February while a domestic canine has the ability to mate during any season, as the success of its newborns is not dependent on the seasons.)
Because bucks are presently on the move, big game hunters typically take to the woods as November arrives as the chances of encountering a deer with antlers greatly improves. Additionally, some sportsmen maintain that cold weather further stimulates deer to move in November, and while repeated bouts of snow flurries may be viewed as less than ideal for hiking, biking, or doing anything outside, such cold is considered to be good weather for being in the woods with a rifle on an afternoon watch for a passing buck.
This past Saturday afternoon, I drove from Old Forge to Saranac Lake and noted the number of cars and trucks pulled well off the side of the road. There were a total of 22 vehicles that probably belonged to big game enthusiasts that were taking advantage of the prime hunting conditions this weekend. This value stands in sharp contrast to the numbers that would have been noted decades ago. Throughout the 1970’s, it was quite common to count nearly two dozen vehicles from the State bridge, a few miles outside of Saranac Lake, to the trail leading up Ampersand Mountain, a distance of about 6 or 7 miles.
It is impossible to say for certain why there has been such a reduction in the number of big game hunters that venture into these more remote sections of the Park for their quarry. Part of the reason may be that the maturing forests that cover so much of the Central Adirondacks have led to such a reduction in the deer herd there that only the most dedicated backwoods sportsmen ever seek this type of challenge.
Presently, deer can still be found in abundance in specific settings throughout the Adirondacks, as they have become quite numerous around towns and villages. Early last week, for example, just before superstorm Sandy began to impact the region, I observed two separate bucks near my house while I was finishing various chores around the yard. I would be considered extremely lucky to have had the opportunity to see a single buck in a stretch of heavy forest several miles off Route 3 just before Coreys.
Along with the lack of browse for the white-tail in our wilderness woodlands, the presence of packs of coyotes may also be influencing the deer population in these more remote settings. While coyotes are known to prowl the fringes of many villages in the Park for prey, these wild canids do not regularly enter into these more populated places, which allow the white-tail to live there in relative safety from any natural enemies, other than the automobile.
Some individuals suggest that the amount of time spent by big game hunters actively pursuing deer has decreased substantially over the years. While many individuals still purchase a hunting license, they rarely use it during the course of the season. In any event, hunting in the backwoods is not what it was a generation ago.
This coming weekend every buck in the Park will be on the move looking to find a doe. It is the time any sportsman wanting to bag some meat for the table should be out, yet a drive along any of the more remote stretches of highway in the Park will probably reveal only a handful of vehicles parked on the side of the road.